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Minister of Local Government and Environment, Dean Peart, has said that he was prepared to take strong corrective actions, instead of punitive ones, to ensure transparent administration of funds in the local parish councils, especially as it related to compliance with the competitive tender process.
“I am sending a clear message to the local authorities. The affairs of the councils, in this regard, must be turned around through improved compliance with the Government’s procurement procedures,” he said.
The Minister, who was speaking in the House of Representatives yesterday (November 7), said that when he assumed duties in March of this year, he endeavoured to apprise himself of the status of the councils, particularly in the area of procurement procedures.
He informed the House that in 2005, audits of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation and the Portmore Municipality were ordered by his predecessor in the then Ministry of Local Government, Community Development and Sport, who had requested a probe into the financial operations of all local parish councils.
Guided by the unsatisfactory revelations of those two audits, Mr. Peart said he “wanted to determine whether this could be widespread in the other local authorities across the island”, and in August of this year, “actively initiated the audits of some local authorities”, including the St. Catherine, St. Mary, Westmoreland, St. Ann and St. James parish councils.
He further informed that an audit of the St. Thomas parish council was underway, while an audit of the Manchester parish council was scheduled to begin this week.
“Four of the six audits have been completed and have been submitted to the Ministry for our discussion and action. After our initial internal interview, we distributed the reports to the councils and then invited the Mayors, Secretary/Managers and Superintendents to discuss the findings with a view to charting the way forward,” Minister Peart told the House.
He said that although audits of the KSAC and the Portmore Municipality had “uncovered serious breaches of the Government’s Procurement Guidelines in these two authorities”, the dissolution of such parish councils would be a last resort.
Pursuant to remedying these breaches, Minister Peart said that he had developed a plan of action, added to instructions which he would give to the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, “to refer the matter to the offices of the Municipal and Parish Council Services Commission for review and appropriate action, in accordance with the Municipal and Parish Council Services disciplinary proceedings”.
Included in the action plan, he informed, were extensive workshops in September, with some 100 participants from the local authorities, including Mayors and Secretary/Managers, which he said would “meet the local authorities half way in addressing this crucial area of governance”.
“This training session was conducted by the principals of the Office of the Contractor General who addressed issues such as the procurement process, contract values and advertising, tender procedures and evaluation of tenders as well as the role of the inspectorate at the Office of the Contractor General,” he informed.
Minister Peart told the House that in addition to the workshops, he would instruct the execution of “periodic audits, additional training intervention sessions, further capacity building programmes under the Parish Infrastructure Development Programme (PIDP) and regular monthly meetings with the Mayors”.
He added that he would reintroduce the requirement for Secretary/ Managers, Town Clerks and Chief Administrators to meet regularly.
“Our ultimate aim is to simply have the councils to exercise good financial management, good governance and excellent customer service and efficient services delivery to the tax payers and our citizens,” Mr. Peart said.